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Pope's Holy Land pilgrimage a huge roll of the dice



Benedict XVI's first book as pope was a meditation on the Gospels titled Jesus of Nazareth, and last year he convened a synod of bishops entirely devoted to the Bible. For this pope in particular, the places, people and events of the Holy Land are deeply ingrained in both his spirituality and his intellectual interests, making his May 8-15 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, which opens tomorrow, a long-awaited pilgrimage -- probably the last chance for the 82-year-old pontiff to walk in the footsteps of Christ.

The trip is also, however, a huge roll of the dice.

While most papal activity is highly choreographed and often quite predictable, this is one of those rare ventures where almost anything could happen. The trip could be a smoldering disaster or a stunning triumph. Or, it could be far less dramatic -- little more, perhaps, than a series of polite photo-ops and mushy diplomatic language. It all depends on how things shake out.

Vatican's moderate line on Obama has deep roots



When L'Osservatore Romano published an essay this week suggesting that U.S. President Barack Obama's positions on abortion and other life issues "have not confirmed fears of radical changes," it provided the latest confirmation of a glaring difference in tone between the Vatican and the most ardently pro-life circles in the American Catholic church, including a growing number of American bishops.

Can Benedict change the Middle East equation?



At the level of pious rhetoric, the Vatican’s vision for the Holy Land is clear and compelling: A land of two states and three faiths, where Jews, Muslims and Christians live in peace and mutual respect.

That dream, of course, is hardly the reality of the Middle East, suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI’s May 8-15 visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories may well be the single most important week of his entire papacy.

The $64,000 question is whether this occasionally PR-challenged pontiff, known more for his grasp of insider Catholic baseball than geopolitics or interfaith sensitivity, can wield the bully pulpit of the papacy in a way that changes the equation on the ground.

The stakes have rarely been higher. Consider the issues awaiting Benedict:

  • The fate of Catholic-Jewish relations in the wake of the fiasco involving the rehabilitation of a Holocaust-denying bishop;

  • Catholic-Muslim ties awaiting a stimulus from Benedict’s first visit to an Arab nation;

  • The ongoing exodus of Christians out of the Holy Land;

The pope is 82. Who's next in line?


Having just celebrated his 82nd birthday, Pope Benedict XVI seems living proof that German machinery is, indeed, built to last. The pontiff shows few signs of slowing down, and as a result, there’s little buzz about possible successors.

The few lists of papabili, possible future popes, making the rounds seem recycled from the end of John Paul’s reign. Irish bookie Paddy Power, for example, has Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Italy, as the 6-1 favorite, with Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras at 7-1, Christoph Schönborn of Austria at 8-1 and Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina at 9-1. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze is tied with Italians Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan and Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, at 10-1. All were considered front-runners last time, but only Bergoglio had traction.

Former doctrinal aides shape Pope Benedict's papacy


During the John Paul years, Vatican insiders talked about a “Polish mafia” in Rome, meaning a cluster of Poles who wielded influence on the late pope. Four years into the reign of Benedict XVI, there’s no analogous gang of Germans, but the pope has quietly assembled another sort of posse: Former aides from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ran the show for 24 years.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, one might say that instead of a Polish mafia, Benedict is now surrounded by his “Holy Office homeboys.”

(The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s top doctrinal agency, was once called the “Holy Office, and around Rome it’s still a common shorthand.)

On April 18, Benedict XVI named Bishop Zygmunt Zimowski of Radom, Poland, to succeed Mexcian Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán as President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers. Zimowski worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1983 to 2002; when he went home to become a bishop, Ratzinger travelled to Poland for the consecration ceremony.

'Rumored Vatican, Obama spat exaggerated'


In journalism as in science, proving a negative is notoriously difficult. Recent attempts to knock down speculation that the Vatican has vetoed several potential nominees for U.S. ambassador to the Holy See make the point in especially clear fashion.

The rumor mill cranked into motion with an April 2 piece from Newsmax quoting Italian journalist Massimo Franco, author of a recent book on U.S./Vatican relations. Franco asserted that several pro-choice Catholics have been floated as Obama’s Vatican representative, only to be rejected by Rome as a way of drawing a line in the sand. (Under international law, a state is free to reject anybody it likes as an ambassador.) The story was then picked up by the Washington Times and other news outlets in the States, as well as by the Italian media, often citing unnamed Vatican sources.

Lending the story sex appeal is the fact that one of the names allegedly drawing a “thanks, but no thanks” has been Caroline Kennedy, the high-profile daughter of John F. Kennedy.

Pope on Easter calls for peace in Holy Land


Pope Benedict XVI Sunday called for renewed efforts to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories as he conducted Easter celebrations in St. Peter’s Square.

“Reconciliation, difficult, but indispensable, is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful co-existence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict,”

The pope, who turns 82 on April 16, will travel next month to Israel and the Palestinian territories during his first visit as pontiff to the Holy Land. The visit to Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth will take place May 8-15.

“Reconciliation – difficult, but indispensable – is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence, and it can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

“My thoughts move outwards from the Holy Land to neighboring countries, to the Middle East, to the whole world.

Pope's Way of the Cross adopts Asian viewpoint


This year's meditation for Pope Benedict XVI's Good Friday Way of the Cross has a distinctly Asian perspective, referring to Hindu scriptures, an Indian poet and Mahatma Gandhi.

But the linchpin of this Eastern reflection is the passion of Jesus Christ. In that sense, it reflects Pope Benedict's view of Christianity's relationship with the non-Christian world -- that the Gospel enlightens and fulfills the beliefs of other faiths.

Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati wrote the meditation on the 14 stations, to be read as the pope leads the candelit "Via Crucis" at Rome's Colosseum.

The pope chose Archbishop Menamparampil, a 72-year-old Salesian, after hearing him deliver an impressive talk at last year's Synod of Bishops on Scripture. The archbishop took it as a sign of the pope's interest in Asia.

"His Holiness regards very highly the identity of Asia, the cradle of civilization. Moreover, our Holy Father has a prophetic vision for Asia, a continent very much cherished by him and his pontificate," he said.



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September 12-25, 2014


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